Jason Berry's 1992 book about sex abuse by priests, "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," talked about gay priests who would visit seminaries "on the make," "befriend" high-school students, go to gay bars, and have sex in public toilets or parks." A new book out this week, Michael S. Rose's "Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church," is filled with stories about seminarians who shower in couples, sashay through the halls in pink outfits and talk about their many affairs as "growth experiences." Rose reports that straight seminarians are harassed or forced into sexual situations, and in one case, given this item on a questionnaire: "What would you rather do, masturbate or read pornography?"
Not all gay priests are part of this flamboyant and active gay subculture. A majority isn't. But the subculture has many serious negative effects, eroding morale and confidence in the church. How serious can this church be if it condones sex in its seminaries?
The not-so-subliminal message is that rules aren't very important. The celibacy rule and the ban on non-marital sex will change eventually, the argument goes -- we are just a bit ahead of the curve. Another argument is that sex has nothing to do with morality: Sex is just a bodily function, while morality is about love and social justice.
The rise of the sexually active gay subculture among the clergy didn't cause the horrors of priestly sex abuse. The vast majority of gay priests would never prey on the young. But did the subculture play the role of enabler in the scandals? I think it did, expanding tolerance for the forbidden and generating a sense of futility among the rule-keepers.
Self-deception is infinitely expandable. One man's justification for violating celibacy or the ban on non-marital sex is another man's justification for "intergenerational love," formerly child rape.
The way out for the church is not to hunt down and expel every last gay priest, which would be impossible anyway. But it should restore the pressures to keep priests, gay and straight, from acting out sexually, whether by showering with a mature friend or preying on a child. The key principles are easily learned: Maybe celibacy will be changed someday, but if you make a vow to stay celibate, you ought to keep your word. And in the seminaries, Catholic sexual morality should be taught by people who actually believe it. Is this controversial?